JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Jacob SullumJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / March 10, 1998 / 12 Adar, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Better than nothing?

All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

In 1988, Congress and the president decided to invest in a large-scale human services program. The idea was to see whether intensive and comprehensive social services for "at risk" families -- that is, families who are poor, uneducated and have single parents -- could improve outcomes for these children. The results are now in.

But first, the rationale: The theory was that while there are scores of programs aimed at poor children -- Head Start, the Infant Health and Development Program, the Even Start Family Literacy Program, the Advance Family Support and Education Program, Child Survival/Fair Start, and New Chance to name just a few -- poor single mothers may have difficulty accessing the services for which they are eligible.

The Comprehensive Bill's Day Care Service Child Development Program was designed to ensure that each parent would be assigned her own case worker, who would introduce her to available services, monitor her and her child's progress, and steer her toward other services as needed.

The program was carefully designed, implemented and monitored at 24 different sites around the country, some rural, some urban. As described by the Department of Health and Human Services, the purpose of the program was to "intervene as early as possible in children's lives, involve the entire family, ensure the delivery of comprehensive social services to address the intellectual, social-emotional and physical needs of infants and young children in the household, ensure the delivery of services to enhance parents' ability to contribute to the overall development of their children and achieve economic and social self-sufficiency, and ensure continuous services until children enter elementary school at the kindergarten or first grade level."

It was, in short, a social worker's dream of a federal program. Each single mom got her own personal case worker who would direct her to parenting classes, remedial education, food stamps, child care, therapy, "life skills training" and whatever else the federal and local governments were providing.

The government officials who designed and implemented the program were careful and conscientious. Each month, there were conference calls among the various program directors to monitor their progress. Three-day meetings for program grantees were held in Washington, D.C., every four months.

But the CCDP also so did something else -- something that is often lacking from well-intentioned interventions of this kind. As Congress required, the project also maintained records on a control group -- that is, a group of mothers who were comparable in every way to those in the program but who were receiving none of the services.

After five years, the results are in, and while the Department of Health and Human Services didn't announce them with the ruffles and flourishes that would have accompanied a success story, they did at least tell the truth. The program failed. All of the best efforts of the finest social workers the government could find made absolutely no difference in the lives of these poor, uneducated, unmarried mothers.

Were there improvements in the income levels, reductions in welfare dependence and increases in vocabulary among the children? Yes. But exactly the same improvements were found among the control group. The cost, per family, of the enhanced social service delivery of CCDP was $15,768 per year. (Head Start costs an average of $4,500 per year.)

The Department of Health and Human Services acknowledges that the failure of CCDP cannot be blamed on poor program design, faulty implementation or lack of funding.

But it does flinch from the larger implications. The reason programs like this are unsuccessful is that there is no substitute for an intact family. By every measure of well-being, children raised by two married parents (biological or adoptive) do better than those raised in single-parent, step-parent or other families. This is without reference to income.

Someday, policy makers will awaken to the fact that the most compassionate thing we can do for poor, single moms and their offspring is to persuade young girls not to become single moms in the first place.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.